Halt inspections, riders' council says
The Metro Riders' Advisory Council voted overwhelming Wednesday night for a resolution that will ask the Metro board to suspend bag inspections and consult with the public about transit security policy.
The transit authority, council members said, should look into the passenger inspection program to evaluate both its effectiveness as a security measure and its impact on riders and their civil liberties.
Last night's meeting at Metro headquarters in the District followed a crowded hearing Monday night in which the council heard from more than three dozen people opposed to the new action in which transit police are randomly stopping passengers as they enter stations and examining their property for traces of explosives.
Richard Sarles, Metro's interim general manager, told the Metro board on Dec. 16 that the transit police would immediately begin to set up such passenger checkpoints, though it had no evidence of a specific threat against the transit system.
Board members did not ask any questions about the police checkpoints or offer any comments following the announcement by Sarles.
The council, a citizens group formed by the Metro board to advise the transit authority on rider concerns, was the first panel to invite public comment. The Metro board has not scheduled a public discussion of the new security policy.
Members of the riders' council last night had many questions about the policy's impact on riders, and expressed concern that the board was delegating full responsibility for this new policy to the transit police without so much as discussing it with the public.
Two transit police officials spoke at the council's Monday hearing and answered questions posed by the council members. Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn, who said he was unable to attend the Monday hearing because of family commitments, appeared at the council session last night and answered members' questions.
Taborn described the police checkpoints as "another tool in our toolbox" to disrupt potential terrorists. Transit police have long used an array of security measures intended to deter potential attacks, including high-visibility patrols in which many officers and K-9 units appear on the platforms, mezzanines and entrances of selected stations.
During their discussion before voting on the principles of their resolution, the council members continued to express puzzlement and concern about many aspects of the passenger inspection program. These were among the concerns voiced by individual council members:
-- Given that police are saying they know of no credible threat to the transit system, why was it necessary to launch a new program that requires passengers who have shown no signs of suspicious behavior to submit to property inspections?
-- How will the transit authority ever know when it's time to stop this? Answering a rider's question on Monday night, transit police Capt. Kevin Gaddis said, "I think until things change in the world, we are going to continue to do this." Does that mean the passenger inspection program will become a permanent part of Metro riding?
-- If a would-be rider exercises his right to refuse the inspection, what will happen to that passenger? Police have indicated that law enforcement personnel will observe the behavior of that person upon leaving the station and will take appropriate action, but will not say what such action might involve.
-- Police have said that would-be passengers who refuse the inspection can take their property back to their cars and enter the station without it. But council members wonder if many riders -- including those who did not arrive by car -- have any real choice about submitting to the police inspections.
-- Since the inspections are random, council members are concerned that they have not seen a specific plan for how police will handle arriving riders who have disabilities -- such as seeing or hearing -- that might impair their ability to understand what the police want them to do and why.
-- Given that there was no attempt to involve riders in discussions about security before this passenger inspection program was launched, what other forms of personal inspections might be added in the future?
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| January 6, 2011; 1:35 PM ET
Categories: Metro, Transportation Politics | Tags: Dr. Gridlock
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